Oct 31, 2010

more LEGOWORLD 2010 movies

Vassilis, better known as NeXTSTORM made a cool short movie enjoy!


Oct 30, 2010


Have just returned from LEGOWORLD 2010 in Zwolle. With a lot of fantastic people from the MINDSTORMS community around, it was a great experience:

Note that for some reason, I did not even catch all of the intriguing and brilliant creations on film that could be seen at the MINDSTORMS booth.

Oct 29, 2010

NXT Checkout Scanner

This Checkout Scanner project I posted recently uses the NXT 2.0 Color Sensor in Light Sensor mode to scan simple "barcodes" made out of LEGO beams and imitate a laser barcode scanner. The interesting thing is how fast it is able to work (the standard light sensor would be as fast as well). Here is a video of the scanner in action:

This project was inspired a bit by one of the missions on the FLL board this year, the Medicine Dispenser, where teams might want to use a light sensor to count black lines on the mat to get the exact distance right. My team was doing this mission and driving very slowly to make sure the sensor was able to count the lines properly. As I was watching them, I was thinking this was one of those cases where your instincts as a human don't relate well to what a robot can do. I knew the sensor could work much faster (and therefore the motor response is the limiting factor, not the sensor), but I was curious how much faster. So I did some tests and then thought of this project.

It turns out you can take light readings about 300 times per second, which is fast enough to do some pretty fast scanning. When you are working on data coming in this fast, it helps to visualize it in graph form, so also included in the programming instructions for this project are a program and some instructions on how to do some basic "data logging" on the NXT, to get sensor data from the sensor, transfer it to the PC, and graph it, as shown in this sample graph:

The data logging program and instructions are for doing it "manually", not using the built-in Data Logging feature of NXT-G 2.x from LEGO Education, which is not available in the retail software, and in any case is limited to only 25 samples per second, so it's not fast enough for this application.

LEGO Technic Idea Books - Review

I've posted about Yoshihito Isogawa's Red, Blue, and Green books in older posts - his books are excellent resources but they've had one drawback - his books are published in Japan and can be hard to find (and expensive to obtain). And add to this the fact that most of the text in the books is written in Japanese.

Until now.

No Starch Press has just released three of Yoshihito's books - all of them are in full-color and the designs are divided up over Simple Machines, Fantastic Contraptions, and Wheeled Wonders.

For those new to Technic building, the Simple Machines book (Red title) is indispensable. It contains hundreds of small moving devices that can provide your robots with all sorts of new and unique behaviors. The book also introduces gears in a way that is easy to understand. Because English is not Yoshihito's native language, he has chosen instead to rely heavily on icons and graphics throughout the book that give you an idea of what a mechanism does. Take a look at some of the photos from inside the books and you'll see what I mean - even the Table of Contents uses the simple icons to convey the intent of a chapter or section of designs.

The Wheeled Wonders and Fantastic Contraptions books (Blue and Green titles, respectively) follow the same thinking - they contain more advanced designs than found in the Simple Machines book, but again... icons and detailed photographs make it easy to follow along and build what he is displaying for you.

You won't find detailed building instructions like you may be used to in other books. I imagine if this were the case, the books would easily push 500+ pages each and be very expensive. Instead, No Starch has allowed Yoshihito to use full-color photos, taken at close range, to provide enough detail to allow you to duplicate his designs. There are enough photos taken from different angles to easily allow you to figure out how to build.

Fantastic Contraptions throws in some usage of pnematics and solar panels and other parts not found in the NXT kit, but don't let this stop you from trying to build them - fortunately most of the parts can be purchased separately from sites like Bricklink.com or from LEGO Education.

Each book is priced at $19.95... buy them from Amazon.com as a bundle and save a bit of money on the books and on shipping. I have all three original books on my shelf and have enjoyed referencing them for ideas over the years... these three new titles are larger in size (as are the photos) and what text is provided is in English.

Finally, you can visit nostarch.com/technic/ to view videos of many of the designs found in the books as well as discuss the books.

It's nice to have these finally available for purchase in the US. I've had many teachers and students look at my Japanese versions of the books over the years and express their interest in owning the books. Well... now they can.

Oct 27, 2010

Last chance to win free LEGO and books!

Because of the the rush around LEGOWorld in Zwolle, I've decided to move the deadline one week forward. So, the deadline is November 7.

If you haven't made a submission yet, be sure to do it quickly. There are 8 prizes to give away, so there's a very great chance that you win!

The objective:
Find YouTube videos that are related to The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book.

Go here to read more about the contest, its prizes and the rules.

Good luck!

Oct 26, 2010

Cool Color Sensor Pictures

Here is a little eye candy just for fun. I was taking pictures of my most recent project (post coming soon), which uses the LEGO color sensor in light sensor mode, and I was surprised to find the following image of its red LED in one of my pictures:

This is not Photoshopped, the star-like rays appeared on their own, I guess due to an interaction between the shape of the camera aperture and reflection/refraction/diffraction between the different lens elements. This is with the red LED shining brightly, as it is in light sensor mode with red illumination (or red lamp mode). The photo was taken at f/16 for 0.8 seconds with fairly bright but diffuse ambient lighting, and a fixed (prime) 50mm lens.

So then I had to try the other colors. Notice how the different wavelengths of light cause different diffraction effects. Or is this just differences in the LEDs themselves?

Getting a similar image in color sensor mode, when all three LEDs are shining, was harder, because the LEDs are much dimmer. I ended up getting one in near ambient darkness at f/16 with a 30 sec exposure. Note that larger lens openings make the effect go away.

Oct 21, 2010

LEGOWORLD 2010 (Zwolle, NL) Day 1

Today 20 October LEGOWORLD opened its gates for the 10th time.
with some of the most inspiring models ever seen.
here are some (poor Iphone) Pictures:

Martijn Bosgraaf's factory that can build a car but also a house!

A working Roller coaster, with 360 loop.

The preparation of the MINDSTORMS area.

Looking forward to see you all there!


Oct 19, 2010

MakerBot in LEGO... now if it would just clean up after itself

Someone (willgorman on YouTube) has built a nice functional LEGO version of a rapid prototype machine. MakerLegoBot uses standard LEGO bricks to build small models one brick at a time. Inspired by RepRap & MakerBot, this is a fairly impressive implementation using 3 NXT's (yet still looking slim and svelte!). I don't even want to embed the YouTube video here, because a creation like this really needs a nice written description - which they provide over at BattleBricks. Take a look... and if you are going to Zwolle, this should be there as well!

I wonder how far you could take this. A long time ago (OK, 2005), Ian Hendry of rtlToronto built an automated duck assembly robot that was really amazing. It only built one thing (LEGO ducks... but nice cute ones), but did it from raw pieces, not pre-built sub assemblies, and did it with a single RCX. More recently there was the automated car assembly robot, but it was huge and worked with pre-built assemblies. And there have been some similar creations over in Europe, involving tables-worth of LEGO and days to set up.

But here, it's reachable with a much more modest investment in hardware, and at the same time is much more flexible - given it a digital build file, and it gives you a real LEGO brick-built model. Fantastic implementation... and perhaps opening up some new doors for future variations? One can hope.

Oct 18, 2010

LEGOWORLD 2010: Three days to go

Only two days to go for the largest LEGO® event of the world: the LEGOWORLD 2010 opens its doors on Wednesday in Zwolle, Netherlands, the day after tomorrow!
It will last no less than a complete week on an enourmous area in the IJsselhallen  and feature hundreds of exhibitors, shops, events, challenges and shows for ten thousands of visitors.

You will meet there also a lot of MINDSTORMS people in person that regularly appear in our blog entries as well as a lot of authors of this very blog (this time, we also will have participants of the MINDSTORMS Community Partner Program from 12 countries!).

I myself will serve both as exhibitor and spot reporter for THE NXT STEP.

If you can manage it, visit the LEGOWORLD - it's well worth it!

Oct 14, 2010

Renewable Energy from the NXT

Image courtesy of dexter industries
Dexter Industries, a 3rd party provider of hardware for the NXT, has released a solar power system for the NXT:

"dSolar Systems from Dexter Industries allow you to power your Lego Mindstorms NXT robot using nothing but the sun! This 9V solar power system is compatible with Lego Mindstorms NXT creations and includes everything you need to get started. Easily attach the solar panel to any of your Mindstorms NXT creations."

Interesting stuff! Browse to their website and have a look. There are also some interesting projects and videos on their blog.

Oct 13, 2010

Give away contest - Update

Several contestants have already made their submission, but if you too want to qualify for a free copy of the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book, or LEGO prizes, be sure to make your submission in time! The current deadline is October 31.

The objective:
Find YouTube videos that are related to The LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 Discovery Book.

Go here to read more about the contest, its prizes and the rules.

Hint: As you can see using the link above, there are 8 prizes that you can win. So, if you want to win a prize, you should really submit more than 8 links ;). It's not difficult (there are more than 8 videos of the Snatcher alone). Just search smart!

Machines, Wheels, and Contraptions - 3 New Books!

Many NXT fans are already familiar with the work of Yoshihito Isogawa... and many of us own the Japanese versions of his books. Well, No Starch Press has now released three of his books, translated and in full color. Details below:

The Books


If you are not familiar with Yoshihito's work, now's your chance to see some of the most interesting and unique mechanisms built from LEGO parts... and many of these mechanisms are simply stepping stones to giving your own robots more advanced movements and abilities.

I love my Japanese versions, and am now happy to have the English translation versions in my book collection.

Oct 12, 2010

NXT on the latest Make Magazine Cover!

If you're not familiar with Make magazine, now may be the time to pick up a copy (or subscribe - much cheaper per issue). Issue 24 features an NXT controlled satellite as seen here in this cover image. I don't have any more details as my issue hasn't arrived yet, but it looks pretty cool!

Each issue usually has a theme, and this one is Space Projects - 10 of them, apparently.

We all know that the NXT has been launched using high-altitude balloons, but this is the first I've heard of one actually being launched with the intent of orbiting the planet...

MINDdroid: Official Android application for LEGO® MINDSTORMS

Image courtesy of TLG
The LEGO Group™ has just announced the first official Android cell phone application for LEGO® MINDSTORMS:

"We are happy to announce the launch of the MINDdroid application for Android (2.1 or higher) phones, that will allow you to get instant access and control to your NXT robot, and give the ability to control by the flick of a wrist!

The MINDdroid app is a remote-control application that allows you to create a wireless connection directly with your NXT, and once a connection is established, you can tilt and turn your phone to make the robot move forward, turn to the sides, and by pressing an action button on the phone's screen, activate the Action motor. If you have a Shooterbot or other robot using two motors for motion and have a spare motor for actions, you are in for a lot of fun!"

Cool stuff!
To read more, go to the MINDSTORMS News page.

Oct 11, 2010

NEW Wall-E made for Zwolle!

The challenge was to remake Wall-E3 (the one that went to Atlanta for the FIRST World Championship earlier this year) but to use only Mindstorms this time! No Power function or 3rd party components!!  humm,   Well we all know the NXT Servo motors are 'huge' and only 3 can be plugged  per NXT... Conclusion?  zWall-E4!

Tech. Spec.:
3 NXT bricks
8 NXT Servo Motors
2 Color Sensors (for the eyes)
1 Ultrasonic Sensor
4 Touch Sensors
& Bluetooth was used to link all 3 NXT's via a NXT-G 2.0 program.

OK so he doesn't transform (yet), but I'm still quite happy with the result. There is always room for improvement though :) I look forward to hear your comments.

Hope you enjoy this short video and for those lucky to be there, make sure you come see us at the MCP booth at LEGO WORLD 2010 next week.

I: /. 7.

Oct 9, 2010

NXT parking station

An NXT version of an automated carparking station.

Nice use of the RFID sensor to identify different cars and I really like the 'lift' mechanism.

*EDIT* This video is from Stan Khaykin, from the 'Great Minds Learning Center - www.buildcoolrobots.com'

Damien Kee

Oct 7, 2010

Videos featuring prototype wheels from Rotacaster

Here are some cool videos to follow up on Jim's post about these great new wheels from Rotacaster.

By sparramc:
A Lego Mindstorms NXT Autonomous Quad Rotacaster Killough Platform Omni-Bot

By xandersoldaat:
Rotacaster Test 2 (visit his blog for other test videos)

By bazmarc:
LEGO Space Police Sentinel - Rotacaster - Mindstorms

The official page to find more info on these Next Generation Holonomic Robot Wheels by Rotacaster can be found here:  http://www.rotacaster.com.au/robot-wheels.html

FLL Coaches Resource Website

A nice resource for FLL coaches is available over at http://www.legoleaguecoaching.org/ - be sure to take a look at some of the great articles related to coaching a robotics team.

New wheels for your NXT robots!

I received a detailed email from RJ McNamara about a new wheel available for NXT robotics:

The Rotacaster is the only Omni-wheel I'm aware of that will track in a "Killough Platform" like theory suggests, resulting with virtually nil slippage on all household hard floors surface. The "Durometer Type Rollers" in the Omni-wheel exceeded all my expectations by a long way after trying those offered from other manufactures! The "Durometer Type Rollers" work like a sticky compound race tyre on a high performance race vehicle.

Many thanks must go to Mr. Peter McKinnon from Rotacaster for having faith in me to take on the challenges involved with developing what is an Industrial Rotacaster Omni-wheel, into a product suitable for use with Lego Mindstorms & Technics Robots.

The Actual cost of the Lego-Rotacaster Omn-wheels and date of availability is yet to be released. The standard non-Lego R-2048-01 Double 48mm individual Wheel Price is AUD $13.75(including GST). Around USD $12.00 each. Rotacaster hopes to make Omni-wheels for use with other Robotics platforms in the future. Mr. Per McKinnon and the Rotacaster staff are great to deal with and their enthusiasm for this project has amazed me with Peter flying from his base here in Australia to the U.S.A. to oversee the development and tooling up.


If any of our readers manage to get their hands on a wheel or two, let us know what you think! And many thanks to RJ for emailing about the new item!

Oct 6, 2010

Shirt Folding Robot

Just came across this nifty little robot

My wife says "why??" ... I say "Why not!" :)

from tinkerology

Damien Kee

Oct 5, 2010

"Tora no Maki" by Yosihita Isogawa now as English books

Remember Yoshihito Isogawa's brilliant "Tora no Maki" book?
It was available as an PDF and written in Japanese; this was no real obstacle, though, as most of its content consists of images.
Yoshihito Isogawa announced now that in October, it is going to be published by No Starch Press as a three printed english books in the United States:
LEGO TECHNIC Idea Book - Simple Machines
LEGO TECHNIC Idea Book - Wheeled Wonders
LEGO TECHNIC Idea Book - Fantastic Contraptions

Great to hear - I encourage anyone who is not in possession of this great collection of ideas and strategies for building with LEGO® TECHNIC so far to go for it.

Oct 4, 2010

A Mystery from NeXTSTORM

Can you figure this one out?

I'm only sorry I won't be in Zwolle to meet NeXTSTORM in person. (That is where LEGO World is being held in the Netherlands at the end of this month.)

SkyPointer Project

Be sure to check out this new NXT project that uses LeJOS - it's called the SkyPointer Project and it points to objects such as planets, moons, and more.

Oct 2, 2010

Europeen Space Agency's Rosetta Project simulated with LEGO®

Comets consist of the most primitive, i.e. unprocessed, material in the solar system. To understand the earliest epoch of solar system formation, we must investigate the nature of this material. Much of what we know of comets presently comes from remote sensing using Earth-based telescopes, plus a few brief flybys that have added only a few hours of in-situ observation. The Rosetta mission is poised to make a dramatic advance in our understanding of comets by matching trajectories with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, orbiting it, and setting a lander on its surface. [1]

ESA's Rosetta mission will rendezvous with comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. In November of that year, Rosetta's Philae lander will touchdown on the comet and thoroughly investigate its composition.

ESA Space Scientist Detlef Koschny build a LEGO model of Rosetta mission  in order to visualize the complicated orbital choreography used in this space mission.

He then goes on and demonstrates the prototype of the Philae lander he made with his son's LEGO Mindstorms.

Then with help from Steven Canvin from the LEGO Mindstorms Team and other players, a full fledge prototype was built... Here is a fantastic video showing off this prototype:

The feedback from the engineering students on the prototype will be used by ESA, the German Aerospace Center DLR, Europlanet, Lightcurvefilms and LEGO to finalize the Education Kit and adapt it to the needs of European curricula.[2]

Read the full article here.
All video presented here are from the ESA YouTube channel

[1] Rosetta: Mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko [Hardcover]
[2] www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMN40NO7EG_index_0

Oct 1, 2010

Long-Distance LEGO Collaborations (or How the Internet Changed Everything, Again... With LEGO)

Blogs, forums, and file sharing have changed the face of how we interact... but I'm guessing I don't really need to tell that to anyone reading a blog, right? About a month ago I was contacted by a NXTasy (may it rest in peace) user, David Bell, about developing a robot that could produce a bar graph style display of CO2 measurements for a public 4-H display. He even offered to ship me all the LEGO parts, sensors, everything needed, & pay for the materials I might need to acquire. Even to compensate me for my time.

I didn't take him up on it.

The reason wasn’t that I was in a mean mood, or that I’m independently wealthy (feel free to throw those tens and twenties this way folks!). It comes down to I do this for fun, and if I can help others out in the process, so much the better… and if we can all do it dirt cheap, fantastic! So instead of them shipping everything to me, and me producing a “product”, we decided to collaborate long-distance. The goal was to produce an NXT-based robot that could draw a series of physical lines in a big display, and to have it all built & working by 2 Oct 2010 for the National Youth Science Day in Walnut Park, Petaluma, CA. David would have the HW, and he worked long-range with the folks at Vernier to interface their CO2 detector (which requires too much power to work straight off a sensor port) with the NXT. Meanwhile David & I discussed (& discarded) various plans for the robot, and I built a very simple one that could drive around and draw lines on a sheet of melamine. I documented it with pictures, and then emailed him the pictures so he could build a copy, while I wrote a test program for the sensor (which I’d never seen or used). Once we got the sensor working, I wrote a program to get the robot to draw lines, while David tested the sensors responses to establish how well it worked & its limits, providing me feedback in the form of pictures and videos. This design process went ‘round and ‘round several iterations, with me sending detailed commented programs to him and him building a table for it to work on and testing it, before suggestion further revisions to me.

The end result is TurtleBot: a simple basic retail kit robot, that can accept most pens and draw on any flat surface (paper, melamine, etc.), and draw a bar graph of CO2 readings when requested by a user (or on its own), repositioning itself with the help of a long straight wall. The first public test was last weekend, and this coming weekend it will be on display (and sampling your favorite CO2 source) from 1-5 PM at the National Youth Science Day. If you are out in the Petaluma, CA area, please stop by and see it (as well as a lot of other amazing interactive science displays).

The robot is sort of cute, and works really well for what it does (and is built with only the Retail 2.0 kit)… but there are certainly better Turtle-style robots out there (Marty, from the Idea Book 1.0 for instance). But in my opinion, the real coolness here isn’t in the robot.

It’s in the way it came about.

Remember if you get to see it, this is a robot that was developed collaboratively, without any of the principles being able to get to together, and without shipping any materials around physically… because we could prototype it with a simple, easily available modular building system (LEGO), using a very easy programming language (NXT-G), and the ability to network with people literally across a continent.

The robot is nifty. The concept of an interactive display was fantastic. But the ability to pull it all together with a geographically-challenged “group” in a few weeks because of the internet and the simple, easily available, modularity of LEGO… that’s really, eye-opening, amazing.

Go see David Bell and the Two Rock 4-H Club this weekend at National Youth Science Day, in Walnut Park, Petaluma, CA. And wave at TurtleBot for me. I miss it. It never emails me.
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